How often do you get to live through an epoch-shattering moment? One where the paradigm shifts in an instant. A moment where, in years to come, they will ask you; where were you.
I had such a moment watching Naked Attraction on Channel 4. I could see the nadir of Western Civilisation. From the renaissance to the enlightenment, to the age of science and discovery and then the deep, endless trough that we are now plummeting into. For a singular moment, I gazed into the abyss and the abyss gazed back at me. Half a million years of evolution had been culminating in this moment. This must have been how the citizens in the Roman province of Britannia felt when Rome called back her legions.
Naked Attraction is the latest in a long line of programmes that use the basic premise of nudity to grab the public’s attention. This is hardly a new tactic. In my youth, I used to watch Eurotrash. I’m sure many of you will remember it fondly. It was presented by the most stereotypical Frenchman in history, Frenching it up through the proceedings with the assistance of the flamboyant fashion designer, Jean-Paul Galtier, wearing a kilt. It had horrific, comedy voice-overs, usually with a broad Scottish or Yorkshire accent. It largely portrayed Europe as a slightly sex-obsessed continent with quirky artists and strange, niche museums. It contained nothing more obscene than the occasional pair of jiggling breasts and a brief, blurry, fleeting glance of genitals, both male and female. It was all done in a camp, “look at them foreigners, eh”, kind of way. Ultimately harmless and fairly tame.
However, things have changed in the last twenty years. Shows such as Jerry Springer, Big Brother, Sex Box and Game of Thrones have constantly been pushing at what is acceptable to be broadcast since before the millennium. The internet has allowed us greater access to topics that would have previously been taboo and the ability to access them without the associated social stigma. It has also allowed us to share aspects of our personal life and be the hedonistic stars of our own imagined reality shows.
The basic premise of Naked Attraction is this: The six contestants are in coloured, perspex boxes and are examined by a fully clothed seventh contestant who judges them on their physical attributes. The contestants are mute and are uncovered gradually. It’s the type of programme that’s bound to attract the vainest, narcissistic and most exhibitionist people in our society, so the reasons for being eliminated include a man having too much body hair, a woman having the wrong type of feet, another not having a full Brazilian wax and man suffering from “dad bod” i.e. having a body like a normal man.
After the six have been reduced to two, everyone removes their clothes and they then judge each other’s naked bodies. This was particularly jarring. It’s as if they are acquaintances or neighbours just nonchalantly having a chat about the weather or discussing where they are going on holiday, rather than what they actually were; total strangers complimenting each other’s genitals. One more contestant is eliminated and the victor then goes on a date, fully clothed mind, to see if there is a spark between them. I would assume that the loser goes home to contemplate their short existence on the planet and do penance to whatever deity they believe in.
After each person is eliminated, the viewer is treated to a long, 3D image of the losers genitals and a lingering view of their buttocks as the leave the podium. The presenter asks them what they felt about being eliminated. Most of them aren’t that fussed, but will probably be shocked when the get a P45 from their workplace or discover that their children can’t look them in the face anymore.
What disturbed me most, was why the programme existed in the first place. How did it get through the concept stage, production and then finally to the point where it was broadcast to the nation. It was peppered with “edutainment” sections, explaining why men prefer blondes or why women prefer a man with broad shoulders. I expect they had to add this into the show to meet some broadcasting regulation or standard. If this was how it slipped by the censors, then perhaps the criteria for what constitutes an educational program needs to be tightened.
It’s also not clear at what viewing audience it was aimed at. Was it more appealing to men or women? According to comments on social media and the press, it doesn’t appear to be appealing to human beings in general.
Perhaps it was a dating show? I doubt it. At least during Blind Date the contestants had the temerity to ask some harmless questions of their potential suitor before being given a cheeky recap by “our Graham”. I’m just glad Cilla isn’t around to see what became of her beloved TV genre.
Ultimately, Naked Attraction further reinforces the idea that all you need in life is a smoking hot body. Your personality doesn’t really make it into the equation. No one is ever going to judge you on your non-physical attributes, they’re unnecessary. It’s the 21st century, no one cares. Looking like a model in a Hugo Boss catalogue is all you need. It’s this sort of cynical, sneering attitude that permeates the entire programme and is much more insidious than the rotating shots of genitals. The idea that there is nothing else involved in attraction is ridiculous and the idea that we are just animals, running on base instinct all the time is also insulting to the viewer.
The writer and broadcaster, Charlie Brooker, once wrote a website called tvgohome.com. It contained fake TV listings with programme titles such as “Britain’s Angriest Failures”, “Lifeboat Vet Cops” and “Pottymouth Chucklescreen”. As a comment on the state of TV, it was superb. As a potential future for television, it was almost unnervingly accurate. However, Brooker said that he had to stop, as reality was outpacing the satirical fantasy he was writing about.
It appears that we are well beyond satire now. Where does TV go from here? Can it go any lower? Most of us aren’t prudes. We have access to the internet. But surely broadcast standards are at a low ebb. Not only are Channel 4 insulting our intelligence with such horrendous output but their cynical and knowing attempts to produce a show with such a leering, narcissistic and almost pseudo-pornographic content is abominable, vulgar and utterly without merit.
The only bright spot is that the majority of the population, subject and critic alike, seem to see the show for what it truly is. Hope springs eternal.